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Dr. Martens have withstood the onslaught of – and reinvented themselves through – many – if not all – musical eras, fads, and fashions. No doubt ‘60s rockers found them very handy for keeping their feet protected from the tarmac, forcing a sticky gearlever to shift on a careworn Triumph and for kicking mods in the shins. Into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punk and the skinhead movement found DMs perfectly matched their aggressive image, even though most punks no doubt went home to their mums to tuck them in with a cup of cocoa at night.
Later on in the decade, as the hardness of punk split into gothic nihilism and dayglo optimism, Dr. Martens could be found on the feet of both groups – the perfect match to both a pair of leather trousers and a floaty flower-print dress. And then came the 1990s, and with it came grunge, a musical movement tailor made for a decent pair of sturdy footwear. Truth be told, there’s barely an era in music that DMs haven’t been associated with, continuing to the present day. So it’s no surprise that the brand has decided to become directly involved in a bit of music promotion.
Now in its second year, the Dr. Martens #standforsomething tour promises to repeat last year’s achievement of “taking some of the most exciting live acts around into tiny venues”. Which makes it sound like they’ve managed to get White Denim to play a phone box, and that isn’t really the case. I’m not sure the venues involved would agree with the “tiny” description – Newcastle’s Cluny 2 has raked seating, a balcony and 160 capacity. Nor is it unusual for the bands involved to play mid-size venues: Eagulls are playing the Cluny on their own headline tour, for instance.
Such pedantry aside, Dr. Martens have come up with an exciting, directional lineup, heavy on bands that feature the words “post”, “punk”, or indeed “post-punk” in their bios. Wales’ Funeral for a Friend have been plying post-punk pop with a distinctly American twist for over a decade now, and the public’s appetite shows no sign of waning. Leeds’ Eagulls are a touch more ramshackle, more punk and less metal, but nonetheless play in the same league.
A pattern emerges when we come to We are the Ocean – distorted, upbeat guitar riffs, insistent, double-tracked vocals and clean-as-a-whistle production. Only their mothers could tell them apart from Funeral. Things take a left-field turn in Los Campesinos! (pictured at top); instead of distorted guitars, there’s violins, any manner of improvised percussion and vocals that are more sung than screamed.
And then there’s the matter of Sydney’s Tonight Alive. Fresh from gracing the soundtrack of the latest Spiderman film, Jenna McDougall brings her impressively toned abdomen and similarly toned vocal cords to the humble environs of Newcastle’s Cluny 2. A combination of laid-back Australian surf style and distinctly Transatlantic musical chops, there’s no doubt that Tonight Alive will bring a dose of glamour to Tyneside – and to be fair to the promoters, considering the auditoria Tonight Alive are used to playing, the Cluny may indeed appear tiny in comparison.
When you boil it down, #standforsomething is nothing more than a short series of unrelated gigs across the country with a rather large marketing budget attached. The bands are already touring the UK: Tonight Alive, for instance, hit London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, completely independently, before their Martens-sponsored Newcastle date. Similarly, this gig closes We are the Ocean’s and Funeral for a Friend’s tours, whereas it falls directly in the middle of Eagulls’. Nonetheless, a good bit of promotion for some decent bands never goes amiss, so whichever way you slice it, if you’re into DMs, good music, or perhaps even both, there’s no better way to spend a night with your fellow leather enthusiasts. And you might bounce home with a bit of free swag. Catch the tour on the dates listed below and register on the Dr. Martens Web site here to register for tickets.
Saturday 4th October 2014 – Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire starring Funeral for a Friend
Saturday 11th October 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach starring Eagulls
Saturday 25th October 2014 – Liverpool Shipping Forecast starring We are the Ocean
Saturday 8th November 2014 – London Lexington – TBA
Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Birmingham Flapper starring Los Campesinos!
Saturday 6th December 2014 – Newcastle Cluny 2 starring Tonight Alive
‘Slider’ is the first single to be taken from Bo Ningen’s third album, the appropriately entitled ‘III’. The video is directed by London-based fashion film director Marie Schuller, who swathes the band within her obsessive monochrome geometry. The stylish, stylised video combines vintage techniques like video feedback with digital manipulation – a combination which echoes the band’s blend of 60s garage psychedelia and contemporary avant-garde rock. Guitars squall and squeal as if in protest of being distorted into shards of tremoloed treble.
In its four-to-the-floor groove and conventional vocal melody, ‘Slider’ is one of the more accessible tracks on ‘III’, lacking the atonal primal screams found on the rest of the album; one suspects a strong Yoko Ono influence. But as if to prove me wrong, with a rarity akin to the blooming of Amorphophallus titanum, the band drop briefly into 5/4 time halfway through the track to create a memorably audacious middle eight. Bo Ningen have been going for a while now, but if this video is anything to go by, their live performance will be crackling with garage-y, psychedelic energy. They play Sheffield’s Tramlines festival on 27th July, before returning to the UK in November to support Band of Skulls.
Bo Ningen’s single ‘Slider’ appears on their third album ‘III’ out now on Stolen Recordings.
Editor’s note: for a flavour of what Deer Shed has offered in previous years, read Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed in 2013 and 2012.
It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spending a weekend under canvas, listening to live music en plein air and generally having a good time whilst dodging the rain. But there’s no reason why such enjoyment should be the exclusive privilege of adults – which is where the good people at Deer Shed Festival come in. Their particular brand of genius revolves around providing a surfeit of proper bands so that Mum and Dad can be exposed to a year’s worth of good new music and also have a ramble down their musical memory lane, whilst the children get up to all sorts of shenanigans with drumming workshops, making things out of string, and learning the occasional naughty bottom joke.
Deer Shed’s musical programming has always been high quality and eclectic, and this year promises the same. The general musical theme of each day at previous Deer Sheds has been as follows: Friday is party night, Saturday is mostly guitar-based, with a sprinkling of Dadrock, and Sunday is most definitely chill-out-with-a-bacon-sandwich time. This year seems to our ears a little more guitar-centric than previous, so don’t forget the kids’ ear defenders!
Friday night sees hip-hop making its first Deer Shed appearance in the form of Dan le Sac, bringing beat poetry into the 21st century with the help of his partner in beats DJ Scroobius Pip. Headlining the other stages are perennial indie favourites British Sea Power, and underground darlings Wolf Alice. Try not to miss Toy and Pins either. Saturday is the day where all manner of shenanigans break loose, with a full programme of music only half the story. TGTF’s band picks are Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls, husband-wife ’80s revivalists Summer Camp, London slackers Happyness, the superb French arch-pop of We Were Evergreen (in a rare return to Baldersby) and the ex-Beta Band Steve Mason, second on the bill only to Johnny Marr, who is sure to warm the cockles of dads of a certain age, perhaps reminding them of that 6th-form disco when they heard ‘How Soon Is Now’ for the first time – and when they still had hair…
But there’s far more to Saturday at Deer Shed than that. In fact, I’d say the kids get the best part of the deal, because while their parents are otherwise distracted, passively absorbing what’s on stage, the kids get to actively participate in some really cool stuff. Let’s consider workshops – the lucky blighters can variously make a castle, a cyborg teddy, a lolly stick trebuchet, a comic book, a princess costume, badges, bracelets, and pretty much anything out of clay. They can learn how to drum, perform circus feats, play the ukulele, and shoot a cocktail stick crossbow. And if that’s not enough they can watch as much slapstick and learn as many naughty jokes about bums that their little heads can handle. Particular standouts from the PG-rated comedy strand include the proptastic Wes Zaharuk, Paul Cookson and ex-Housemartin Stan Cullimore doing kid-friendly ukulele singalongs, and for the little ones a puppet show featuring the adorable Lulu – a sort of emu, but with Rod Hull nowhere to be seen.
Arts activities for adults include a spoken word strand curated by the Guardian’s Dave Simpson – check out ‘The Fallen on The Fall’, allegedly the most Fall musicians in the same room except actually in The Fall, or Saint Etienne‘s Bob Stanley discussing his book ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah': the complete story of the modern pop era, apparently. There’s all you ever wanted to know about The Wonder Stuff, and all you never thought to ask about Bradford’s musical history. If that’s all too much and you fancy slumping down in front of the big screen, there’s time travel-themed movies all weekend, culminating in 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live piano accompaniment from the genius that is Darius Battiwalla. Almost worth the entrance fee alone.
Speaking of themes… Friday night sees the Time Travel Party get into full swing. What that involves isn’t clear, but we imagine one of two things – either remembering the date for the future when time travel machines have been invented, then going back in time to attend, or, perhaps the easier option, bring some clothing that was fashionable in the past, or perhaps will be fashionable in the future, and wear that to the party in an effort to convince fellow revellers that you really are from the future. Or perhaps the past. This time travel business gets confusing very quickly. What you under no circumstances must do is attend from both the present and the future – if your two selves meet, the very fabric of spacetime will be rent asunder – an event hardly conducive to a decent party. If anyone needs advising on the tricky details of time travel, no doubt Marty McFly will be on hand to help, and perhaps one or two generations of Dr Whos. Don’t forget to bring your flux capacitor.
Even though Deer Shed offers good value in musical terms even if you haven’t got kids, the whole point of the event is that it’s a place where the little blighters can let off steam and have some fun in a relatively safe environment, with both children and adults catered for in terms of activities. Even though other festivals have their kids offerings, Deer Shed has the need to keep kids entertained woven into its very DNA – it’s something it’s very good at indeed. Added to the fact that it’s never rained at Deer Shed in living memory… what more do you need to know?
To read the first half of Martin’s review of Live at Leeds 2014, go here.
Happyness sound like they come from Slackersville, USA, their sound reminiscent of college rock luminaries such as The Lemonheads. But a quick post-gig chat with affable singer Jonny Allan reveals they’re actually from South London – it’s their record collections, not their accents, that are transatlantic. What’s also very British is their moderately grumpy, slightly pained, dead-pan intra-song witticisms (imagine if Derek and Clive formed a band and cut out most of the swearing) which puts the lie to their optimistic name.
Such obscurantism matches the music well – the full name of one song is revealed to be ‘I’m Wearing Win Butler’s Hair; There’s a Scalpless Singer of a Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’. Said song has a superbly laid-back groove, making it pretty much the perfect song for a late afternoon spent indoors when it’s sunny outside. There’s every day at a festival there’s a band who summarise the mood, linking atmosphere, location and sound in a perfect circle of gentle euphoria – Happyness are that today.
Woman’s Hour (pictured at top) trade in gentle washes of electronica and minimal beats, topped with Fiona Burgess’ peachily delicate croon. Smooth and fragile, here appropriately swathed in smoke-machine atmosphere, Burgess making smooth motions with her hands as if hosting a communal tai-chi class. Much like the smoke, there’s the suspicion that Woman’s Hour are a bit ethereal, slightly monotonal, perhaps without the dynamics to structure a set which fully engages right to the end. Within their niche, very competent, but The xx have nothing to fear.
Highasakite sound like nobody else and are certainly the most ambitious band of the day. They make a fantastic orchestrated noise, perhaps best described as prog-pop, where guitars are just another instrument to carry their elegant, architectural melodies. Ingrid Helene Håvik strolls on stage unassumingly, wearing a hoodie several sizes too big, but when she starts to sing, the true potential of the band begins to be realised. ‘Since Last Wednesday’ is an epic on the theme of loss, featuring cathedral-size pipe organ and enormous drum hits, ‘Indian Summer’ has an enormous uplifting chorus, and latest single ‘Leaving No Traces’ melds spaghetti-western sensibilities with an electronic pop chorus which manages to be both icy cold and deeply emotional all at the same time. Quite a ride.
Each member of the band appears to be a virtuoso, particularly the impossibly-talented, formally-trained synth player Marte Eberson, whose playing stands out as being as stunning as her looks. In the back room of the Brudenell, with not much more than a handful of audience members, this starts to feel like a rare treat, of a band with stadium-sized potential playing a private gig for a select few who know the secret of where to find nuggets of otherworldly music. This is the performance of the day, and, for that matter, of the year so far.
There could hardly be two bands more different than Highasakite and The Orielles. One is an ensemble of refined, trained musicians who formed at the Trondheim Jazz Observatory. The other is a group of two sisters and their schoolfriend from Halifax who have a, shall we say, more rudimentary approach to their instruments. What isn’t rudimentary is their ability with a tune. Their sound is 60s-inspired melodic surf-psyche-garage of the most endearing naiveté. But there they are on Spotify and iTunes, with an EP and a single, showing for more experienced practitioners how to go about this music business thing.
Check out something like ‘Old Stuff // New Glass’ from their ‘Hindering Waves’ EP (video of the title track we featured earlier on TGTF here) – there’s a fantastic surf-guitar sound that Dick Dale would be proud of, there’s the double-double-barrelled Esme-Dee Hand-Halford giving Louise Wener a lesson or two in offhand cool, and her sister’s Ringo Starr-esque drumming holding it all together with a simple, tight groove. They even take on a bit of white funk in ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’. Tonight, the audience are mostly men, mostly at least twice the band’s age, heads nodding and feet tapping to the frenzy of noise coming from the stage, as the band race through their set with no banter or niceties to lighten the intensity. You might go to see them for the novelty of age, but you’ll stay for the tunes. (For more of our coverage on the Orielles, go here.)
By the time TGTF arrives at Leeds University for a look at the Wytches, the well-refreshed crowd are already as excited as a toddler at Christmas, bless them. The appearance of Kristian Bell and his the sound of his dirty power chords sends them over the edge – a tsunami of people surge forward and crush the photographers and their expensive gear who’ve braved the front of stage position. The photographers don’t stay long, the crowd continuing to press wave after wave of human flesh against the barrier. A fight breaks out at one point, which seems perfectly normal given the circumstances.
The band themselves do have a nice line in semitonal noise, mixing ’60s psychedelia with ’90s mainstream grunge like Temples‘ naughty little brothers. In ‘Wire Framed Mattress’, Bell emotes about his dignity collapsing, and it’s clear some members of the crowd can relate to him from first-hand experience this evening. Overall, The Wytches are about as scary as a Vincent Price film, and just as corny, but they’re good for a laugh in a paradoxically light-hearted way. Just don’t stand at the front if you value your bones unbroken. (For more of our coverage on the Wytches, go here.)
It’s left to Drenge to wrap the night up. They take the visceral impact of an act like the Wytches but manage to tidy it up a bit, making proper songs that don’t rely on tons of reverb and walls of noise, but feature audacious concepts like groove and melody. Eoin Loveless is a positive guitar hero for a new generation, despite, or perhaps because of, not really ever playing a solo. (For more of our coverage on Drenge, go here.)He loves a good riff, though. Kids these days, eh? Sadly the crowd here is even further removed from the mores of polite society than the previous one, with flying beer cups, extreme moshing (some punters even come complete with anticipatory plaster casts already applied), and the final straw – enthusiastic vomiting just in front of the speaker stack. TGTF retreats to a safe distance – outside the venue, watching from the stage door – just to be able to enjoy the performance without being assaulted by various fluids, bodily or otherwise. And that’s it. The end.
The genius of Live at Leeds is that it attracts enough ticket sales from those wanting to see bigger, more mainstream acts – apparently Frank Turner’s acoustic set was at capacity long before stage time – that they can afford to run a fringe of more interesting new music. DIY’s programming of the Brudenell was flawless – in another universe TGTF stayed there all day and saw The Amazing Snakeheads, Fair Ohs and Pulled Apart By Horses. But the program is so varied that there’s something for everyone, and at £25 for a whole day of class acts, superb value. Roll on 2015.
A writer’s job is often made easier if the band being reviewed is flawed – niggles, deficiencies and mediocrity are generally obvious, and the journalist can feel usefully employed in describing them and perhaps suggesting remedies. The better the band, the greater the challenge in finding something to write about that isn’t simple fawning praise. And then there’s White Denim, a band so accomplished that really this review could be distilled down to one sentence: “Flawless – go and see them without delay.” It really is as simple as that; we might as well stop there.
The world is replete with four-piece guitar bands who between them run the gamut of countless stylistic hues. Not many manage to weave countless genres and influences into a set of what is ostensibly ‘70s-style hard rock, but White Denim do. A band comprised entirely of virtuosos, they play with such insouciance that they could appear vaguely smug, were it not for the passion clearly evident in the music itself. Rhythm guitarist Austin Jenkins is the master of the deadpan riff, the tiniest of smiles playing across his lips, fingers evoking impossibly nimble, snaky guitar lines spun of the finest musical silk.
Bassist Steven Terebecki is similarly inscrutable. Indeed, the two stand close together throughout – their appearances could hardly be more different, but they are brothers in music. And then there’s James Petralli. Standing separate from the others, but facing towards them, leaning in whilst executing a fingerstyle lead line of a dexterity not seen since the era of Mark Knopfler, Petralli adds a touch of humanity to the relentless execution of his rhythm section.
Material-wise, they’re superb songwriters. Like a Steppenwolf in sheep’s clothing, they evoke dreamlike soundscapes of fuzz guitar, built of conventional tropes, but suddenly the direction might change gear into an abstract jazz interlude or a prog-rock wig-out. There’s a powerful streak of 60s soul infused throughout. Tonight’s set draws heavily from latest release, 2013’s ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, which is no bad thing, as the band themselves admit that this record comes closest to reflecting their live show, taming their wilder instincts, integrating pop-like melodies and simplifying arrangements, increasing their accessibility without compromising impact. There are spine-tingling moments aplenty, from the impossible riff of ‘In Dreams, At Night’, the understated cool of the title track, and proper straight-ahead blues-rocker ‘Pretty Green’. Perhaps a touch more from 2009’s startling ‘Fits’ would have been welcome, but that’s clutching at straws, really.
It’s been said that White Denim are the best live rock band in the world right now, and it’s difficult to disagree with that statement. Few, if any bands, achieve such an appealing blend of individual skill, mastery of several genres whilst still sounding like themselves, and complexity within the music whilst still retaining mainstream appeal. I’ve written as much about Wild Beasts before, except they have made a sidestep into electronica whilst White Denim are strictly a guitar ‘n’ drums outfit, and all the better for it. A brilliant inspiration for aspiring guitarists and living proof that guitar music still has its best days ahead of it.
See more of Martin’s high-res photos from this gig in the Toon on his Flickr.
2002: a curious time of innocence, and simultaneous loss of innocence. Momentous events occurred, their true consequences hidden in the folded future. The world was still struggling to accept 9/11. Parts of Europe embarked with blind optimism on their slow journey towards economic self-destruction by adopting the Euro. The country celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – 3 days later her sister died, and 3 months later, so did her mother. Coldplay released ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ – and while touring the album, Chris Martin would meet his future wife Gwyneth Paltrow. Momentous events all, but arguably only one has had a lasting effect on the popular music catalogue. And now that the Martin-Paltrow marriage has come to the end of its natural life, only one that has a break-up soundtrack all of its own.
Coldplay’s 2000 début ‘Parachutes’, is a modest, wimpy emulation of Nineties guitar-band tropes: gently-strummed acoustic guitars, some elementary guitar effects, clichéd and blissed-out lyrics (“We live in a beautiful world”, etc). But that world needed an album like it – inoffensive music that couples can agree they both can tolerate, with an irrepressibly optimistic worldview to boot. The rock ‘n’ roll operating envelope has at one end sweary, noisy, atonal punk – and for there to be a spectrum, something needs to occupy the other end. Step forward Coldplay.
The production on ‘Parachutes’ is shockingly bad, though: thoroughly over-compressed and lacking in the quirky ambition of something like Athlete’s ‘Vehicles And Animals’. The snare sound on their first mega-hit ‘Yellow’ is embarrassingly bad, a cross between a ping-pong ball being shaken in a jar and a side of ham slapped with a slipper. Chris Martin’s voice is either merely inoffensive or deeply irritating, depending on one’s tolerance for fey white boys moping about existential nonsense. Most of the time he could be mistaken for the sound of a goat stuck down a well. However, ‘Parachutes’ is a half-decent stab at a band attempting that most futile but well-worn endeavour: to recreate Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ for the mainstream. Many would attempt it – Athlete, Starsailor, Snow Patrol – and many would fail.
2002’s ‘A Rush of Blood to The Head’ is a much more mature piece of work. Everything is more grown-up: most of the tracks are over 5 minutes long; the opening track ‘Politik’ hints as to what’s to come: a far more adventurous arrangement than ever before, a tetchily cynical lyric from Martin, but still retaining the copyrighted Coldplay melodicity and optimistic overtures. That pesky snare drum makes an appearance once again in ‘In My Place’, although this time it sounds like someone popping an empty bag of crisps, with a nasty resonant ring for good measure. Despite this disability, the track reached #2 in the UK, and perhaps characterises the band’s approach to the whole album: an attempt to, if not completely rewrite the melodic rock rulebook, then at least dress it up in a fresh suit and introduce it to a new millenium.
‘God Put a Smile Upon Your Face’ has a nice chromatic chord sequence played on a grubby old acoustic guitar, ‘The Scientist’ is the ubiquitous piano ballad, soppy as ever, buy hey – something’s got to get those lighters in the air. ‘Clocks’ is an interesting one: there’s loads of keyboards, a big, uplifting piano crescendo, and almost completely meaningless lyrics. A sign of things to come, perhaps. The album concludes with a pair of tracks that are amongst Coldplay’s finest work. The title track puts their undoubted ability to deliver a decent crescendo into good use: with talk of firearms and arson, this is Coldplay taking on big themes, and mostly succeeding. ‘Amsterdam’ is similarly morose, the sour to the preceding overload of saccharine optimism. Talk of being “tied to the noose” is uncharacteristically downbeat – and it really suits them.
‘X&Y’ is essentially more of the same: ‘A Rush Of Blood…’, mark two. Despite the nods to orchestration and electronica, it’s still essentially the sound of a guitar band with enormous ideas. With hindsight the entirety sounds a little one-note, but there are standouts – ‘White Shadows’, ‘Talk’, ‘Speed Of Sound’, which confirm their ability to write a stadium-sized tune hadn’t been lost. And then came the inevitable – the concept album. ‘Viva La Vida’ was produced by Brian Eno, and he helped immensely to take Coldplay’s lofty ideas and craft them into something reasonably coherent and credible. The topics are ambitious, and, surprisingly enough, the music actually does them justice. Pertinently, the title track uses a four-to-the-floor synthesised bass drum, but doesn’t fall lazily into dance music tropes. Perhaps Coldplay’s most left-field single, the song tells the story of a deposed monarch mourning his own poor judgement that engineered such a fall from grace. A masterclass in concept songwriting that few could match.
Most importantly, despite the baubles, the album sounds like the work of one band playing real instruments – noisy guitars are still frequently front-and-centre, but even when they’re not, the orchestration sounds familiar, all of a piece. ‘42’ deserves a mention as a three-movement work that manages to glue together string-laden balladry, noisy, almost math-rock riffing, and the inevitable uplifting crescendo. A notable highlight in an already strong album. ‘Viva La Vida’ showcases a band merging populism, concept and the avant-garde – and succeeding. Coldplay’s masterpiece.
It’s in ‘Mylo Xyloto’ that the etiolated shoots of today’s folly were first to be heard. ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ again uses a dance-inspired kick drum, lead synth stabs, and, mystifyingly, an electric guitar which sounds suspiciously like a set of bagpipes. The lyrics are embarrassing and subtly patronising like a leery uncle at a disco, and none of it holds the credibility of their preceding work. Ri-”autotune”-hanna pops up briefly and rather pointlessly. With lukewarm reviews and their worst sales to date, was this the sound of a band losing their way? What the album couldn’t convey, of course, was the power of the Coldplay live show, the potency of which is in no doubt. The combination of audience-participation wristbands, button-pushingly emotive material, and Chris Martin’s enthusiastic gyrations means very few people felt short-changed from 2011-2012’s worldwide jaunt, including that most prestigious of things – the Glastonbury headline slot. Questions of musical direction aside, in 2012 Coldplay were, and possibly still are, the most effective stadium-rock band in the world. There’s even a feature film of the whole affair, if proof were needed.
It is, then, with a heavy heart that we must turn to ‘Ghost Stories’. Be warned – every song is about losing Gwyneth. Every single one. The first line is “I think of you”, repeated ad nauseum in a number of different pitches and melodies, including that increasingly insufferable falsetto that he’s so keen on. Here’s a representative sample of lyrics – see if you can spot a pattern:
“I don’t want anybody else but you”
“All I know is I love you so much it hurts”
“One last time tell me you love me”
Give us a break. At least throw in a topic or two to change the mood, to get the bile going: perhaps something about tetanus, or Nick Clegg. But no, the whole thing is hewn from the most simpering of sentiment. There’s even a song called ‘True Love’, for fuck’s sake. Interestingly, the album’s only moment that isn’t cloyingly saccharine is the guitar solo in said track, when Jonny Buckland, in a rare moment of disobedience, briefly bends a note out of tune – an act of rebellion that hints at some power struggle going on underneath the surface. But, as quickly as it appears, it’s gone, and the usual bland normality is resumed. In a way it reminds the listener that this isn’t just one man’s folly, it’s four men’s. Five, if you count the otherwise credible Paul Epworth at the desk. Any one of them could have reigned in their depressive singer’s whines, it’s just that they didn’t have the guts, the self-perceived status, to do so. Cowards.
Rather than listening to the album straight, it’s much more fun to look up the track names in advance, and predict which moth-eaten lyrical cliché Martin is going to wheel out next. ‘Oceans’ is a good one for this – think distance, water, loneliness, and you’re on the right track. It really is music by numbers. Who, frankly, cares enough about Martin’s state of mind to wade through this tripe even once? There are far more important things on which to spend one’s time. On this evidence, if Martin is this much of a drip, then Gwyneth made the right call.
One is entitled to feel upset when one’s wife leaves. Such sorrow can be expressed in many different ways: some would choose to drown their sorrows in several tumblers of malt whisky, others in ill-advised trips to age-inappropriate nightclubs, yet more by riding a motorcycle at reckless speed. The obvious choice for catharsis if one is a musician is: make some music. But nowhere is it written that that music should be so obvious, so much of a collection of embarrassing pleas for things to back to the way they were, for the woman to overlook all the flaws and irritants that made her leave in the first place, and to come back just because you wrote a nice little tune about her.
And then we get to the utter dross, the audible sewage, the musical runt that is ‘Sky Full of Stars’. If anyone was wondering if there was any way to really take a Coldplay album into the next league of terrifying banality, the answer has arrived: call in Avicii. The DJ equivalent of Matalan works his ‘magic’ by bringing in some recycled big disco beats and house synth stabs, converting what was already some pungent fromage into a whole over-ripe brie that’s been left in the sun for a week. Someone please take it away and dispose of it carefully. Every single crap house cliché is in there – predictable build-ups, tappy little percussion bits, filters, echoing vocal lines – you can almost hear the lasers. ‘Sky Full of Stars’ is the sound of Coldplay eating themselves, diving headlong into inadvertent self-parody, declaring, as has long been suspected but is at last confirmed, that they have completely abandoned any notion of musical integrity, and are in it for the cheap dollar. Why else would they prostitute themselves, prone on the altar of excruciating Euro-house, essentially simply pretending to be a band, as some young chap from Stockholm does all the hard work for them?
It all could have been so different. The Gwyneth break-up should have been a time of pause and contemplation for Martin, including a period of calm re-evaluation of his past work, of identifying where he’s gone right and where he’s gone wrong in his musical career to date. Perhaps going back to first principles with his band, working as a simple four-piece with basic instrumentation and respect for the song as their guiding ethos. People may have been pleased – impressed, even, to see a revived Coldplay shorn of theatricality, doing what they do best: catchy, mainstream rock tunes. Instead, we have this overblown load of old cobblers – the audible equivalent of a tear-stained handkerchief. An album that makes you cry – for all the wrong reasons.
‘Ghost Stories’, Coldplay’s sixth album, is out now on Parlophone.